This Week's Sermon
Pentecost 19 – October 20, 2019 – Luke 16:19-31
“Oh, I sure hope I have enough.” Maybe that thought has come into your head as you’ve planned a big get together with family or friends. It’s hard to believe that we’re almost at the end of October, and that another holiday season is right around the corner. There’s a good chance you’re going to be a part of some kind of a big family or friends get together. So you’ll make sure you have enough. Enough of what matters. Enough food, enough plates and silverware, enough places for people stay. You want to have enough so that when the moment comes – when party time is here – you’re ready.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus told another story. This time, his focus was on that idea of “enough.” Only this time, the ramifications of not having enough are much larger than a lackluster party where you ran out of chips and dip. His parable focuses on the eternal and helps us grapple with that question of “do I have enough?” Enough of what really matters.
Jesus begins by telling us about a rich man. And he wasn’t just rich, he was loaded. We’re talking the upper crust, the top 1%. And you could tell just by looking at him. He wore purple cloth, which was a dead giveaway. Purple was expensive. It was typically reserved for royalty. But that’s how this man dressed. It was like walking around everyday wearing Gucci or Armani. The luxury brands. He feasted on fine meals and lived a life of luxury. He certainly had enough.
But right on the other side of the gate from this extravagance was a very poor man, named Lazarus. He had nothing. No home, no family, no friends. Instead of fine clothes his “clothes” were painful blisters and sores that covered his body. And he was starving. The scraps that fell off the rich man’s table would have been like a meal at a 5-star restaurant. And he was so weak he couldn’t even keep the strays from licking at his sores, adding to his misery. He certainly didn’t have enough.
Both men died, as all men do. We don’t know how they died or when they died. But both died, and something different happened to each man in death. Lazarus, who was miserable in life, was taken to heaven and brought to Abraham’s side, where he would be free from misery. The rich man, who lived in comfort and luxury in life, was in hell, where he suffered never-ending misery and agony.
Here we need to pause for a second. Why did each of these men wind up where they are? To the Jewish ear, the rich man seemed heaven-bound. They saw wealth as a sign of a right standing with God and of his hand of blessing upon them. Lazarus, then would have been the opposite. For him to be in agony on earth clearly would have meant that he had done something – some grievous sin – to deserve what he got. Jesus flips that convention its head here. But that still doesn’t tell us why. Is the rich man in hell because he failed to help Lazarus? Is it because he didn’t utilize his wealth to help others? Did he not do enough?
If Jesus had cut his story off right there, that would be the logical answer. Had it ended there we could point right to that failure to help the poor and needy and say: “that’s it!” But he keeps going. And by what he says next through the conversation between Abraham and the rich man, it’s clear that his failure to help when he had enough for himself was only a symptom of a much deeper and more serious problem. While he had enough wealth and comforts, he didn’t have enough of what actually mattered.
So let’s pick it back up. The rich man is agony in hell. But he looks up and sees Lazarus standing next to Abraham in heaven. And he calls out asking for just a tiny drop of water to be placed his tongue. Practically speaking, that wouldn’t have done much. If you’re in the desert and dying of thirst, a little drop of water is going to do nothing more than give a split-second of relief. That’s all the rich man wanted – a millisecond of relief from his suffering. But Abraham says, “There’s a big gap here. So Lazarus can’t come help. But even if he could, the answer would be no.” There was no relief, not even for a moment.
The rich man doesn’t challenge this or complain. He understands and accepts his lot. But he’s got living brothers and he doesn’t want them to suffer the same fate. “Send Lazarus back from the dead to go speak to them! Then they’ll listen and know!” Abraham gives an extremely important answer: “No. They have Moses and the Prophets. Let your brothers listen to them!” “That’s not enough,” the man answers. They need more. If only they had more. If only he had more. Now you see what Jesus is getting at here, right? “If they don’t listen to Word of God, then not even a person raised from the dead will be able to convince them.”
There’s the answer. Why was this man in hell? He didn’t have the Word. He didn’t have faith. His failure to love others, was a symptom of not having faith. Had he known the Word, he would have known what it says. Jesus summarized it as loving God and loving neighbor. Despite his wealth and his luxuries, when the most important moment of his life came – his death, when he stood before God – he didn’t have enough.
But that statement isn’t really true, is it? He did have enough. He had Moses and the Prophets! That was all he needed! It was right there in front of him, and he missed it. He got so caught up in his wealth and luxurious lifestyle, that missed what was most important of all. And how do we know that it was there right in front of him? Because Lazarus wasn’t in hell. Lazarus, who had nothing, had and trusted Moses and Prophets. He had and he trusted the Word of God. If Lazarus had access to it, so did the rich man. The rich man did have enough. He just didn’t see it.
Jesus isn’t pulling his punches in this parable. It’s a strong warning – if you lose God and his Word, you will have no excuse before him. And if we’ve lost our faith in him, we will end up in hell. It won’t matter what we have in this life, or even the ‘good’ things we’ve done. Without faith, hell awaits. You know, around Halloween there are lots of devil costumes or cartoons that make light of the devil and of hell. “Well if I’m going to hell, I’ll see all my friends there and it will be a party.” The rich man knew how to party – hell is no party. It’s agony. It’s misery. It’s pain. And there is no relief from it – not even for the briefest of moments.
I don’t mean to say that to scare you – it’s simply the reality. And Jesus tells us this to make us stop and think. Listen to his warning. Because it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters. And if we’re putting ourselves into the parable, we’re the rich man. We have a lot. You might not dress is the same fineries and have the same kind of luxuries. I may not see a bunch of Rolls-Royces or Ferraris out in the parking lot, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t rich.. We do live in luxury, even if we don’t always realize it. Are we losing sight of what matters? Are we as concerned about our spiritual well-being as much as we are about our earthly well-being? Will we have enough that day when we meet God face to face so that we, like Lazarus, are carried to Abraham’s side, and not sent to hell?
God’s answer? Yes. By the grace of God we do have enough. See, while what Jesus says is primarily meant as a warning, do you see the grace in it too? He tells the rich man that if his brothers listen to Moses and the Prophets – if they listen to the Word of God – then they will have exactly what they need. They do enough. Because God’s Word is enough. It’s through the Word that God plants, feeds, strengthens, and builds faith. Because it’s in the Word that we hear about the one telling this story.
See, Christ knew what was important. He knew what was needed so that hell wouldn’t be the final destination. It’s why he spent so much time preaching and teaching. It was the Word that changed hearts. But he went one step further. He died so that the Word of God would be a blessing, and not a burden. His death and resurrection changed our destination in death from hell to heaven. Do we have enough? Do we know enough? Absolutely. Do you know that you’re a sinner and cannot save yourself? Yes, the Word tells me that. Do you know that you have a God who loves you and sent his only Son to save you? Yes, the Word tells me that. Do you know that through his death and resurrection your sins are forgiven and that the gates of heaven are open wide to you? Yep, the Word tells me that too.
But that means it’s not just enough for us. Remember, the rich man’s concern is for his brothers now. He wants more! “Send Lazarus! Give them a sign!” But Abraham says that a sign wouldn’t convince them. If they don’t listen to the Word, then a sign won’t do them any good. You always hear that – “I would believe in God if I had proof! Real scientific evidence. That would convince me!” Jesus said that’s not the case. Evidence, signs, and “proof” don’t create faith. We have all the proof we need in the Word. And that alone is what creates faith in someone else’s heart. It’s the only tool needed for the job. We can still use other things to help. But no fancy marketing campaign, no catchy slogan, no new program offered will ever replace the pure and simple Word of God. They can’t. Because they can’t save. They can’t create faith. Only this can.
That’s the root problem that Jesus addresses in the parable. And when that root problem is fixed? The symptoms go away. The Word of God works a change in our hearts that makes us stop looking at our own well-being and start looking outward. It causes us to see that the wealth and things that we have are enough. In fact, they’re enough to share with the Lazarus’s who are out there in our neighborhoods and on the street corners. But we don’t make that change. The Word of God does. And it’s enough. Amen